Monday, December 13, 2004

I will be visiting Israel later on this month so the possibility of terror attacks is more on my mind than usual. I'll be there for almost three weeks to visit friends, tour around a little, and get some research done at the National Library in Jerusalem. Our semester is about to end, so I have the time to do some traveling. While there I expect to continue working on an article that I gave a presentation on at the Society of Biblical Literature conference last month.

What follows is an abstract of my SBL paper, ""He Shall Not Look at a Woman": Gender in the Hekhalot Literature."

The Hekhalot literature contains many ascetic prescriptions that the mystic must follow to invoke angels or enter the hekhalot – prescriptions which imply that the world of the Merkabah was a male-only world. The male adepts must avoid any contact with women, including not looking at women and not eating food prepared by women. A distant contact with menstrual impurity suffices to recall Rabbi Nehuniah b. Ha-Qanah from his Hekhalot vision. This paper examines the Hekhalot requirements of ritual and sexual purity that prohibited the male mystic’s contact with women, and the concomitant assumption in the Hekhalot texts that only men can engage in mystical practices. It attempts to answer the following question: Why were there no female Hekhalot mystics and why was the visionary experience "gendered male" in the Hekhalot literature? This question arises because the comparative evidence from early Christianity and early Islam differs so much from the Jewish sources. Early Christian texts present literary expressions of women's ability to receive revelation from angels. In Luke 1, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her that she will have a son; in 1 Cor. 11–14, Paul refers to both women and men speaking "the tongues of angels. The Montanists’ female prophets received wisdom from angels. Women participated in early Christian ascetic and monastic movements. The woman mystic Rabi'a, whose teachings are revered by later Sufis, was a prominent figure in early Sufism. Why, in contrast, were Jewish women’s mystical experiences not recorded and their absence required from Hekhalot circles?

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